Why Hasn't Spelljamming Affected Certain Planets?
for the spacefaring peoples of the cosmos, Spelljamming is a way of life. But for the people of Toril, Oerth, Krynn and many other worlds, this incredible technology has had little impact on their day-to-day lives. There have been no serious attempts of invasion on these worlds, most travelers do not go to space or use the incredible speeds of the spelljamming ships to close vast distances, and no great empire has claimed any of these worlds as their own. This essay presents some possible explanations for why, in general, many worlds are left untouched even as their skies are full and bustling, as well as specific potential explanations for the big three worlds of the Triad.
The three types of worlds: Uncivilized, Civilized and Spacefaring
For the purposes of this discussion, there are three types of worlds normally encountered in a sphere.
Uncivilized worlds, generally worlds where the population is sparse or pre-agrarian. There may be many wild beasts roaming around, perhaps even a city state or village here or there, but most of the planet is not claimed by a tool-using species. These are the most common kinds of worlds one is likely to encounter.
Civilized worlds are post agrarian and feature tool-using species throughout it’s land or sea. The two most important advances for a spacefarer are recorded history and large, immortal political organizations such as empires and kingdoms and basic metallurgy, such as bronzeworking. A civilized world can range from a world of steam and magic like Eberron to a relative backwater like Krynn. A world ceases to be merely civilized once most of the powers inhabiting it maintain a spacefleet.
Spacefaring worlds are worlds predominantly controlled by space-faring civilizations. This may be the far flung colony of a newly space-faring world or the capital of a vast empire. Space-faring civilizations are rare due to the difficulty of developing most techniques capable of reaching escape velocity.
The Problems with Inhabited Planets
There are several reasons why Civilized planets which have not yet achieved space-faring technology are generally avoided by space-faring peoples.
The first thing most civilizations realize when they first reach wildspace is just how much of both space and stuff there is. While there are a few old empires that feel the need to push their borders more and more, for most peoples capable of reaching the stars there is more than enough unclaimed stuff in the multiverse to satiate most resource needs. This means that there is rarely a reason for most people to bother with an invasion of a civilized planet, or even engage in substantial inter-civilizational trade except for the most rare and unique of resources, particularly since most space-faring races are not substantially more technologically advanced than their groundling counterparts. There is also the matter of technology spreading into groundling hands and the potential rise of new space-faring empires. What few local resources there are that are not abundant elsewhere could be easily contested by a groundling civilization that were to develop space travel, which discourages the development of substantial relations between an empire and the ground. In general, in the rare situation where a civilized planet has a resource a space empire wants, the preferred method of acquiring it is to found secret colonies on the surface, infiltrate local government with sympathetic agents who can smuggle the goods, conduct stealthy raids or make secret deals with local rulers.
While individual jammers do make planetfall from time to time, often in pursuit of magical artifacts which are consistently rare throughout the cosmos, generally they prefer to hide their origins from the locals where possible. Local curiosity has been the ruin of many a space adventurer, who are often as ready to kill as worship an alien, often perceiving them as creatures from the outer planes. Even if the locals merely decide to imprison one until they decide what to do with one, eventually some magistrate gets involved, and then there are inquisitions, magical experiments, Vivisection, local barons treating one like a Genie… generally this sort of trouble is not worth the bother.
Fortunately for the intrepid spacefarer, avoiding the locals is a boom business on some of the more frequented jamming-unaware worlds. There are secret alien safehouses and alien-friendly inns in many major population centers, some run privately, others by the local space empire. Secret ports and safe-harbors, often sites of local superstition, provide offworld transportation. Sometimes there are even secret embassies where some relations have been established which may intervene on a citizens behalf in the event of hostile natives. Many of these safehouses will run and exchange (or an illegal mint) which will even re-stamp currency for a fee to prevent unwanted questions, loan a traveller local clothing and create false identities.
However, these services are generally unnecessary for an adventurer or wanderer who isn’t planning on settling down for a substantial amount of time. Adventurers are a strange and mysterious enough bunch, known for paying in unusual or unrecognizable coinage, and stir up enough local curiosity in small towns, and are a common enough sigh in large ones, that most aliens can walk through a town undetected. Many jammers are also designed to make water landings and sail on the seas in order to facilitate local trade where such trade is valuable without arousing suspicion, and on some worlds there are commonly established names for certain off-world cities that help dispel suspicion. And ultimately, when discoveries do happen, barring some kind of mass event locals are often disinclined to believe the speaker, and in some cases have a long tradition of legends and superstitions about the flying ships which ply the stars.
Some lawful, neutral and good aligned space civilizations have laws strictly relegating the nature of contact with non-space-faring civilizations, sometimes in general, sometimes on specific planets. While few outright ban planet-side interactions, and many of these laws are nearly impossible to enforce, overall the goal of these laws is to prevent either the spread of space-faring technology, the discovery of any secret planetside operations, and political upheaval on the planets in question that might disturb the status quo. In some cases this is even a moral duty to allow groundling development independent of outside interference, basically a ban on the practice of Uplifting practiced by other civilizations. Other times, it is an arrogant dismissal of groundlings as being unworthy of the cosmos. Such laws and social conventions serve to discourage planet-side visits, if only to avoid the paperwork.
Some of these laws also proscribe the treatment of groundlings who discover the existence of spacefaring technology. Generally, the most accepted practice for Good and Neutral civilizations is abduction, or forcibly removing the groundling from their home and thrusting them into the wider universe, with varying degrees of obligation on the part of the discovered alien and degrees of restitution to the family. Evil civilizations sometimes also practice abduction, but may also practice enslavement or liquidation. In some rare situations where such a magic user is available, a memory wipe works, whereas in situations where the local government is well infiltrated a cover-up may be preferable.
While many empires are content to live and let live, and many others will actively stage invasions and enslave entire populations, a lucrative and relatively low-cost means of integrating a groundling civilization into one’s empire, without the risks inherent in uplift, is the found a Shadow Government. Through the use of the superior technology of space-travel and the abundant resources that produces, some empires choose to silently take over the political institutions of a planet or otherwise manipulate events to their advantage. For the less subtle, there is the option of throwing the local planet into a dark age through raids and warfare and taking advantage of the resulting insecurity, fear and lack of communication to plunder the world to one’s heart’s content while suppressing all real knowledge of one’s existence.
With all the abuses a nascent civilization can suffer at the hands of extra-solar interlopers, sometimes the local deities of the sphere, if sufficiently powerful, might directly intervene on behalf of a sphere or a world within it. This can result in a total ban on alien visitation, or at least severely hamper such visitation.
For some rare planets, it is neither divine will nor expedience but the forces of nature that prevent frequent jamming. While rare, some planets have hazardous terrain, atmospheres or features which make visiting difficult or dangerous if not impossible.
Why visit planets?
Despite these issues, there are plenty of reasons why jammers may frequent a planet that may have unaware inhabitants.
Better Prices for Trade Goods
In some rare situations, it is possible that planetside trade goods might be cheaper than in space. This may be because of local abundance of some resource, a lack of local space infrastructure in the area or because the locals lack some good that is much more abundant in space. It is not unheard of on some less advanced worlds for iron to be exorbitantly valuable, though on such worlds it is relatively unlikely for the locals to have anything valuable to offer in return.
While in space many goods are bought an sold, and while spelljammers themselves often use some magical or alchemical components to provide locomotion, magic items are still not generally traded in the open market, and hardly standardized. The promise of fast money in the vault of some ancient ruin, or the tales of a lost sword of legend can draw a jammer planetside looking for loot.
While just on par with a similar sea-vessel in terms of fighting power, the ability of jamming ships to strike anywhere quickly and leave makes raiding an attractive option for less scrupulous spacefarers, and few groundlings have the appropriate defense prepared to repel a flying ship. Slaves, plunder and maybe even a small empire await those with the daring and black heart to raid, though eventually the groundlings may catch wise and take appropriate countermeasures.